When working with young people in order to prevent violence against women, you must be inclusive of ALL young people.
Generic messages will not work with all young people. You will need to consider the different needs and contexts in the community where you work.
When engaging with young people, it is important to do your own research and explore young people’s cultures, values, expectations and experiences that shapes their beliefs.
Understanding these issues can help to tailor messages and initiatives that will work for the particular young people you are working with.
Below are some practical tips for how to be inclusive of all young people.
Consider your own positionality
Positionality is the consideration of your personal values, views and place in society, time and space, and how these impact how you experience and understand the world around you.
It is important to consider if you hold any types of power and privilege that the young people you are working with do not, e.g. if you are white and the young people you work with are people of colour, you are able-bodied and the young people you work with have disabilities and/or you come from a more privileged socio-economic background than the young people you work with. You should reflect on your privilege and look at how you can address any imbalances of power. This approach is also known as cultural safety.
Work out if there are other organisations or groups working on the issues you are wanting to address or who have specialised knowledge. Be mindful that small, specialised community organisations may have very limited resources and may not be able to provide advice and support without additional resources.
Be aware of the issues and challenges for young people
There are a number of barriers that can prevent young people from engaging with services. They can include:
- a distrust of institutions, systems and/or organisations due to policies and decisions that have caused harm and discrimination to young people’s families and communities
- limited literacy skills or knowledge of English
- suspicion of the motives of the organisations due to previous experiences of discrimination or their trust being breached
- difficulty getting parental permission to participate
- fear of being ‘outed’ to their parents, peers or community
- avoidance of potential discrimination such as racism and homophobia. ¹
It is important to research and consider these factors as you tailor your approach to engaging with the young people in the community where you work.
Identify young people’s strengths and resources and involve them in planning
- What are the young people you work with good at?
- What do they enjoy?
- Are there ideas, skills or knowledge that they bring, which they can draw from?
- Who are the other adults who play a supportive role in their lives?
You might be able to draw on these strengths and resources or enable young people to do this.
Initiatives will be more successful if young people have an opportunity to have input into their development. Some ways you can involve young people and encourage them to participate include:
- An advisory group or committee
- A consultation session
- Surveys, especially for anonymous feedback
- Sessions for discussing reflection and feedback
Make sure you are clear about what kind of input or information you are asking for, and how it will be used. If inviting young people to provide input and feedback, show how their feedback has been taken into account. This will give them more confidence in the initiative.
There’s no need to be an expert
You do not need to become an expert in working with young people in all contexts and backgrounds, but that you take an approach that is responsive to the young people you are working with. This can mean, for example, using images and stories that include people from a range of communities.
Your role is also to stimulate new thinking among the young people you engage, so it is not helpful to depict stereotypical images. Consider using stories and images that challenge gender stereotypes (e.g. you might provide an example where a group of young men communicate in a vulnerable way, or a family has same-sex parents).
It might be also helpful to engage and partner with other sectors or organisations, such as disability advocacy or migrant resource centres (especially those with a focus on women), which have specialist knowledge. They might also provide access to additional resources so that you can do your own research.
Be curious and provide a safe space
Do not assume any aspects of life to be universal or the same for all. You may become aware of your own assumptions about how things should be, but it is important to hold back any judgements about other ideas, practices or norms. For example, in some cultures, families do not eat dinner together. Men and boys eat first and girls and women later.
Be curious and invite young people to also consider their assumptions. If you are not sure, ask young people what happens in their homes? Or how do they do ‘this’ or ‘that’?
Challenging gender stereotypes often means opening conversations on issues that evoke strong ideas and emotional responses. It is best not to offer an opinion, but to let young people assess their beliefs and work out if they want to change these. Your role is to provide a safe space for such reflection to happen.
In the example given above, if a family do not eat dinner together, it is neither good nor bad. However, encourage a young person to analyse why it happens and perhaps consider whether this practice benefits those who eat first and discriminates against those who eat later.
Most importantly, listening is key. Learn from young people and let them decide for themselves in a safe and respectful way. Encourage young people to offer this respect and openness with each other.
¹ Youth Affairs Council of South Australia (2016), Better Together A practical guide to effective engagement with young people.